Don't hold back

Set your retaining walls – and company apart – with new, versatile designs.

Retaining walls are seen nearly everywhere and are used to accomplish many tasks – the most basic of which is simply holding back (retaining) earth and supporting land or structures. Contractors and manufacturers alike know that these walls not only serve a functional purpose but can add value and beauty to even flat surfaces.

Walls can be made of timbers, cinder block, poured concrete, manufactured precast blocks, natural stone, boulders and even vegetation. Vegetated walls are becoming increasingly popular due to their sustainability and earth-friendly features. With cinder blocks and poured concrete, these walls can be faced with a number of decorative options including brick, flagstone, stacked stone or even stucco. Combining materials can create a unique, winning look that delivers a rustic or formal appearance based on the client's preference.

Many contractors have experience in building walls using all of these basic material choices, but for the contractor looking to deliver beauty and value beyond function, a world of possibilities begins to open. Consider moving beyond the limitations of straight lines, stacked units or single colors and into the world of organic form, varied elements and a blend of products that express your artistry.

You can begin to see the power you have as a contractor to differentiate your service from that of your competition.

Many contractors choose to play it safe and stick with more traditional designs in applications that frankly, are boring. After 10 years in business, that is what drives me to design more creative spaces that incorporate walls, water, fire, greenery and more. I'm simply bored with the traditional applications, and so are my clients. You'll find that once you step out of the box that your work will become challenging again, just like it was when you first started your business and everything was new and exciting. You'll also find that demand for your product will increase along with your value, profits and exclusivity.

Begin transforming your designs by walking through your local stone yard. Start to look at the products and visualize ways that they could be combined, connected or integrated with each other. Look at boulders and how they occur in nature and see how outcroppings of rocks can create seating areas, entrances or simply offer someone a place to pause, reflect and admire the space.

Once your wall has been designed and built, don't miss the opportunity to completely finish it by adding lighting and greenery. Low voltage landscape lighting is a huge opportunity to add value, beauty and, of course, profit.

Most people spend time in their outdoor retreats long after the sun sets and the ambiance and warmth created by lighting keeps them coming back. Many light fixtures are low profile and very easy to conceal, leaving only the net effect of the light to accent the space and reflect off the natural surfaces of the stone and greenery. Vines can be used to overhang the wall and perennials can be incorporated into natural pockets of earth designed into the face of the wall.

Green walls can be vegetated by live staking trees and shrubs or simply cutting holes in the bags and placing colorful vines, wildflowers or grasses. Vegetated walls are incredibly useful in streambank erosion control and for your clients that live on lakes and rivers, you'll find their simplicity to be a welcome relief over traditional streambank wall construction.

Segmental wall products have come a long way in recent years. With new molds and new designs being created every year, segmental walls now have the ability to offer the same value, beauty and charm as their natural stone counterparts. For many contractors, segmental walls offer even more value due to their consistent sizes, ease of construction and support from the manufacturer.

They're incredibly versatile and their structural retaining properties are well documented and predictable. Working with natural stone on the other hand requires the talent, experience and artistry of a skilled mason or installer.


The author is president of Sarros Landscaping in Cummin, Ga. He can be reached at

October 2011
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